HL Deb 05 February 1857 vol 144 cc200-4

said, he was anxious to take the earliest opportunity in the present Session of putting a question to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War—a question which, though he regretted to say it related particularly to himself, he believed was not altogether unconnected with the general interests and welfare of the army. The question was upon the subject of defamation of character by officers holding commissions in the army. But before he put it he would remind the House how entirely the circumstances had changed with regard to the means a man had of defending his character by the change of opinion which had taken place with regard to the laws of honour. Their Lordships would remember that that most distinguished man the great Duke of Wellington, when he considered he had during any great political contest been unjustly commented upon, had recourse to the remedy provided by the laws of honour. A similar course had previously been adopted by Pitt, by Fox, by Castlereagh, by Canning, and by Sir Robert Peel; and, indeed, by almost all the great and distinguished men of the past and present century. But he (the Earl of Cardigan) was much more unfortunate; because, in following their example, he had had the misfortune to be placed at their Lordships' bar and tried as a felon, at the imminent risk of losing, not only his personal property, but his personal liberty. Since then, the law with regard to duelling had gradually become more stringent, and only one personal conflict had subsequently taken place between any two gentlemen; and on that occasion one of the parties, who held a commission in the service, lost his commission, and was imprisoned. The Mutiny Act and the Articles of War had also been altered, and made more stringent and severe. Now, it was upon the Articles of War that he would found the question he was about to put to the noble Lord, and in obedience to the Articles of War he asked the protection of the highest military authority. The facts were these:—His character had been maligned, his military reputation had been defamed, in a most extraordinary and uncalled-for manner by an officer holding a commission in the service; and that officer, although he had published his statement—his unfounded statement—under the name of "A Staff Officer," was in reality Major the Hon. Somerset Calthorpe, who, he regretted to say, was a near connection of a Member of their Lordships' House. First of all, it might be necessary for him to say that, barring one statement relating to a circumstance touching a certain number of horses, there was not a single statement made respecting him which was not utterly devoid of the slightest truth. In the difficult position in which he was placed by the publication of Major Calthorpe's book, the course he thought proper to adopt was the following:— Soon after he became acquainted with this publication, he applied to the Commander in Chief of the army to bring Major Calthorpe before a general court-martial for "conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, in disgracefully maligning his character." His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief refused to accede to his request, on the ground that to do so would be productive of inconvenience to the general interests of the army. The next step he (the Earl of Cardigan) took was to request a friend—a brother staff officer of cavalry, who on several occasions had attended him when he was employed on different expeditions and services with the cavalry by Lord Raglan's orders, and who was utterly unacquainted with, and never had heard of any of these gross fabrications—to go to Major Calthorpe and point out to him how entirely unfounded in fact every one of his statements were, to calmly ask him to reconsider them, and to withdraw them on any ground he thought proper, provided he stated they were misrepresentations, and were unjustified by facts. The answer he received was to this effect—Major Calthorpe admitted that two out of three of the allegations he had made against him were totally devoid of truth; and the other he explained in so flippant and offensive a manner as to be entirely unsatisfactory to him (the Earl of Cardigan); and he concluded by refusing to withdraw these statements from his work, on the plea that it would be inconvenient to himself and his publisher. He (the Earl of Cardigan) was aware that many people would say, and had said to him—and perhaps the majority of persons were of the same opinion—"Why care about this attack upon you; why trouble yourself to take any notice of it; why not let it pass?" He could not agree to accept such advice. He thought when a man's character was openly attacked, he was bound to defend himself in one way or another. If he had been alluded to in the general terms in which a gallant Admiral had been, he perhaps would not have taken any notice of the attacks, believing that opinions so expressed were ridiculous and absurd, and even contemptible; but when an officer like Major Calthorpe came forward, and stated that on particular occasions he had done certain things, which, if he had done, would have been highly discreditable, but which he never did do—such statements being preposterous fabrications—it was impossible he could pass the matter over in silence. Under different circumstances, considering the insignificance of this officer, and if it had been merely a question of the present moment, he might have allowed his accusations to pass unnoticed; but published in a book, they became, if uncontradicted, matter of history; and somebody taking up this work twenty-five years hence might be led to believe that it showed the real tenor of his conduct as a general officer while serving in the Crimea. It was most unfair and unjust that such should be the case. He must appeal, therefore, to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, and the question he wished to put to him was this—Whether, after having received a letter from Lord Raglan, which he had now in his possession, thanking him for the manner in which he had conducted the cavalry reconnaissance in the Dobrudscha and to Trajan's Wall, and for having obtained the information which he (Lord Raglan required; whether, after his name had been mentioned in the despatch after the battle of the Alma in a way highly satisfactory to his feelings, with regard to the operation of a part of the cavalry on the night preceding the battle; whether, when he was subsequently mentioned in the despatch after the battle of Balaklava in terms well known to their Lordships; and when he had the further honour conferred upon him of having his name included in the list of those general officers who had the high honour of receiving the thanks of their Lordships' House—he asked whether, considering all these facts, it was right or fair that a junior officer, holding a staff appointment in the army, should be permitted, long after the events about which he spoke had taken place, to malign him and injure his professional character? Whether an officer who had disgraced himself by propagating and publishing statements which were devoid of every vestige of truth should continue to receive even half-pay from the public purse? and, further, whether an officer having so disgraced himself was to be permitted to retain an honourable post on the staff of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland?


said, that owing to the general terms of the notice which had been given by the noble Earl who had just sat down, he was unable to do more than to guess at the nature of the question which he was about to put to him; and he must be permitted, now that he had heard it, to express his regret at the practice which appeared to be growing up of making either House of Parliament a court of appeal upon points which respected the discipline and administration of the army. He could not, however, find fault with the noble Earl for availing himself of his privilege as a Peer of Parliament to refute in this public manner the accusations which he (Lord Panmure) could not but say had been most wantonly brought against his military character; but he thought that while he was conscious of being in possession of the approval of Lord Raglan for his distinguished and gallant conduct in the Crimea, the noble Earl might well have afforded to pass by in silence the remarks of one so inferior in rank and judgment to the gallant officer under whom the noble Earl had served. More especially might he have done so, when he considered that he was armed also with a document which showed that he had received the thanks of this and the other House of Parliament for his conduct in the field. With regard to the question of proceedings against the officer who wrote the book to which the noble Earl had referred, let him remind him that though the noble Earl charged a particular officer with being the author of that book, that as far as the authorities of the Horse Guards were cognizant of the facts, that book was written under an anonymous signature. The Commander in Chief (who would have been present in his place to-day had he not been in attendance on Her Majesty), upon receiving an application from the noble Earl to redress through the means of a court-martial the injury which he had sustained from that book, stated that he did not conceive that it was his province to take notice of anonymous military publications, because such a precedent once established would lead to inevitable confusion in the administration of the discipline of the army; and that moreover it appeared to him, as it appeared also to himself (Lord Panmure), that the noble Earl had a recourse open to him by an appeal to the civil courts of the country, whereby he might have obtained reparation for the defamation of his character. The noble Earl had stated the reasons why he did not adopt another course in vindication of his honour, and why he did not appeal to what ho called the "law of honour." He (Lord Panmure) thought that he was perfectly right in making no such appeal, and he was sure that the sooner such a law was abrogated entirely, the better it would be for the profession and for society at large. He thought, under all the circumstances, that the only answer he could give the noble Earl was to say that it was not the intention of the Commander in Chief to bring the officer who was supposed to be the author of the work in question to a court-martial; and he would strongly recommend the noble Earl to rest upon the high testimonials which he had in his possession to refute the injustice to which he had been subjected.